Filipino filmmaker’s four-hour epic wins top prize in Venice thanks to his love of Russian literature

Lav Diaz wins Golden Lion for best film for the movie ‘The Woman who left’.
Image: Dave Bedrosian/Geisler-Fotopress/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz made history over the weekend when he won his country its first-ever Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

His winning film, The Woman Who Left (Ang Babaeng Humayo), is a nearly four-hour black and white story of a woman traversing towards redemption from injustice.

“My head is spinning right now, its unbelievable,” Diaz said. “This is for my country, for the Filipino, for the struggle of humanity. Thank you.”

The story tracks a 60-something year old woman, Horacia Somorostro (portrayed by Charo Santos-Concio), who spent 30 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. She eventually finds redemption and forgiveness through random acts of kindness she encounters.

“Its about the Filipino struggle. Its our story,” Diaz told us in an interview before leaving for Venice. “You would see immediate connections to any of us, whether youre a farmer, an activist, a professional, or ambulant vendors plying the streets.

Santos-Concio in the film.

Image: Trailer for ‘the woman who left’/youtube

The story is based on Leo Tolstoys God Sees the Truth But Waits, a short story that takes the form of a parable of forgiveness. It didnt take long for Diaz to write an adaptation after successfully casting Charo Santos-Concio, in a comeback role for the actress who has spent decades working as a top TV network executive.

(Disclaimer: Santos-Concio is the former president and CEO of ABS-CBN.)

Charo and I talked and I asked if she was willing to act in a film, Diaz said. She said yes if there was good material. After two days we came back to her with the material and she said yes.

From left, Chief Executive Officer of ABS-CBN Corporation and actress Charo Santos-Concio, director Lav Diaz, and actor Lloyd Cruz.

Image: Claudio Onorati/ANSA/AP

Diaz says he’s a fan of Russian literature. At our home in the uplands of Maguindanao when I was a kid, I always chanced upon the names Tolstoy, Chekov, Dostoyevsky in my fathers bookshelf. And Ive always read them through college. Subliminally, theyre always in my head.

It’s hardly surprising to see Diaz’s work stretch four hours. The auteur is known for long and winding sequences that have lasted up to seven hours.

Filipinos back home keen to watch his film can look forward to screenings slated in the coming months, including the Metro Manila Film Festival starting on Christmas Day, when all movie theaters in the city are required to only exhibit Philippine-made films.


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